Chelsea win a dramatic penalty shoot-out in a tense affair which had just about everything in it. A red card, penalties, poor misses and woodworks, topped off with some injuries, this match was certain to produce goals. But Chelsea came out victorious after over 70 minutes with ten men, in a “super-human” effect, as described by Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas after the match.
The match started with a host of changes, but one we did not expect was that of Andre Villas-Boas, who appeared to be rested for the match on the team-sheet, with former boss Ancelotti named as manager, but with all the confusion over, it was Villas-Boas who emerged, together with youngsters Bertrand, Lukaku, Romeu and McEachran.
In a scrappy opening, Chelsea had a few chances to open the scoring, first with Luiz, then with Sturridge and Kalou, but it was the Belgian youngster Romelu Lukaku that had the greatest chance. Set up by Josh McEachran, who was released with the ball from Cech’s throw, Lukaku powered his way through Briggs before a right-footed shot saved by the Fulham goalkeeper.
Apart from a Sturridge chance where he shot wide, Fulham were coming into the game and giving Chelsea a real test for the bragging rights of West London, Cech with a good save from Orlando Sa. But the perhaps Chelsea’s biggest chance, McEachran fed through by Malouda, and he shot past Schwarzer. With Kelly close by, Sturridge raced towards the goal-line to make sure it did go over the line, but though it did, he was flagged for offside. Replays showed that McEachran’s shot could have gone in without Sturridge’s intervention, which would have made it 1-0. During that, however, Sturridge picked up a hamstring injury and with two minutes left of the half, he was substituted by golden oldie Frank Lampard.
Half-time came and another face did not emerge from the tunnel: Petr Cech, who had earlier been hit in the head in a aerial duel with Sa. Turnbull took over between the posts and proved himself a valuable understudy, even if he was not fully fit. But a couple of minutes later, the game changed. Alex red carded for a tackle from behind Frei, although replays showed he might have nicked the ball. From the ensuing penalty, Kasami hit the woodwork and to Chelsea’s relief – for the second time in four days, they had not conceded from the penalty spot in the regulation 90 minutes of play.
Romeu filled in in defence for the five consequent minutes, but when he looked shifty and could have given away another penalty, AVB decided to restore experience in the form of JT, with McEachran the man going off. This also denied Drogba the chance to get back into action, over three weeks after a sickening challenge against Norwich in the Premier League, as all available substitutions had been made.
Approaching 70 minutes, and Ross Turnbull produced a superb save. Kasami pulled the ball back from the goal-line, and when JT inadvertently directed it goalwards, it took a superb Turnbull reaction save to pluck it out of the air from literally point-blank range, a save even Cech would have been proud of. Getting on top of it, Ross Turnbull did less well from the ensuing corner, fumbling with the catch only for Baird to shoot wide.
With the clock running down, no team could snatch a winner, so it went to extra time. Lukaku was the next man down, but thankfully due to cramp, so Chelsea only had to be down to 9 men for a few moments. With few chances being created, the match headed towards penalties. First up was the usually reliable Frank Lampard, but his power penalty was well stopped by Schwarzer. Zamora scored to give Fulham an early shootout lead. Luiz levelled that with a sumptuous finish into the corner, but former Chelsea man Steve Sidwell gave Fulham the lead back. Next in line was JT, and though he appeared nervous, he shoot well with Schwarzer unable to react. Dembele was next, but Turnbull guessed his left and saved well. Kalou then dispatched expertly into the corner, and though Baird scored to level it again, Malouda scored for Chelsea, hitting it well into the other top corner. The spotlight was on Bryan Ruiz, who had to score, but when hit powerful shot bounced off the crossbar onto the line only to bounce back up to the bar and out, the referee Chris Foy awarded no goal and Chelsea, fortunately, progress through the next round.
AVB promised youth, but in truth, it was Fulham who probably rested more established players, with AVB still starting with the experience of Cech, Ferreira, Alex and Malouda. But sprinkled amongst them was youth, and they all performed well. Bertrand had his first full Chelsea match six years after signing for Chelsea, whilst Lukaku, Romeu and McEachran all impressed too, the latter unfortunate to have been the one who had to make way after the red card.
AVB promises more youth throughout the competition in a way to bring them through, supposedly at the request of Roman Abramovich. But if the owner had to choose whether to go for success or youth, only time will tell. AVB got lucky this time, but Chelsea will have to convert more of their chances, even if it is only the Carling Cup.